SROs ‘disappointed’ with lack of student interaction

Georgetown PD Det. Joey Melvin instructs students during a 40-hour School Resource Officer training course last week. Submitted photo/Georgetown Police Department

DOVER — They’re updating emergency response plans for potential scenarios.

They’re preparing to assist, as schools adapt to regulations due to COVID-19.

And they’re still having to monitor school laptops and Chromebooks for security purposes.

But until students come through the doors, school resource officer duties don’t feel quite complete.

“Yes, there is a great sense of disappointment,” Dover police Cpl. James Piazza said this week as a virtual start to classes at Central Middle and statewide neared.

“Many students look at SROs as role models and someone they can speak to. Not having the daily, face-to-face interactions greatly affects those relationships and conversations that we have with our students,” he said.

And until schools transition into at least a hybrid model, the void will continue.

“Most of the kids in our school don’t look at SROs as police officers. They look at us as a ‘big brother’ or parental figure and often open up to us in times of need or distress,” said Cpl. Demetrius Stevenson, who is assigned to Dover High.

“I enjoy the day-to-day interaction with the students and assisting with coaching athletics,” he said. “I look forward to being able to share those bonds with the students in the near future.”

According to Cpl. Terrance Knight, who has been stationed at Dover’s Parkway Academy, “I spend more time with the children in my school than my own kids.

“I miss the kids, I miss the conversations, and the current situation has had a significant impact on our ability to work with the children and be there for them when needed.”

Dover Police Department’s SROs are also spending time with the community policing unit prior to in-person learning.

And an uncertain state of flux in planning remains as the pandemic continues to evolve.

“With so much unknown for the future, we can’t specifically outline what tasks the SROs will have at this time,” Dover police spokesman Sgt. Mark Hoffman said.

Capital School District constables will return to their schools Sept. 8, “supporting safety and security of returning staff,” spokeswoman Candace McCarthy said.

“They will also complete annual training.”

Indian River School District’s five SROs are set to return Tuesday, with officers from the Delaware State Police and Selbyville, Georgetown and Millsboro police departments covering its schools.

This week, Georgetown Detective Joey Melvin oversaw a 40-hour training session for 13 SROs from DSP, Smyrna, Laurel, Millsboro, Rehoboth Beach, Dover and the Woodbridge School District.

The program used curriculum from the National Association of School Resource Officers, with which Detective Melvin is a certified instructor.

Officers are continuing to work with school administrators on forming safety plans and “preparing them for a return no matter how it is, in person or remote,” Detective Melvin said.

“These communities are a microcosm of our society as a whole, and the same concerns exist.”

IRSD has budgeted $409,713 for its SRO program during the 2020-21 school year.

“As a school district, we have no more important task than assuring the safety of students and staff on a daily basis,” Superintendent Jay Owens said.

“School resource officers from state and municipal police departments are an invaluable tool in maintaining a safe learning environment in all of our buildings. We have developed strong working relationships with our local police agencies in recent years, and we look forward to welcoming our SROs back into our schools,” Dr. Owens said.

Milford Police Department’s three SROs will report as usual, spokesman Sgt. Robert Masten said, “as we will have people in our buildings and plan for a hopeful return of students not too far into the school year.”

Echoing a familiar refrain, Sgt. Masten, himself an SRO, said there’s “absolutely” disappointment in the bonds missing right now.

“Our SROs value the daily interaction with students, parents and staff,” he said. “They miss that and can’t wait for a return of students to our buildings.”

As students and staff vacated last spring, Detective Melvin said, “the distance created at the end of last school year affected the personal interactions between SROs, students and staff.

“A significant method of establishing positive relationships is the ability for SROs to have daily interactions with the entire school community.”

A delayed return is problematic, he said, especially since students regularly disclose abuse they may have suffered over the summer upon returning to school. Part of an SRO’s duty now is to fill in staff on how to look for signs and handle such cases when they inevitably arise via online interaction, he said.

DSP currently supplies 30 SROs to work in eight school districts statewide, and they “are ready to deploy to their schools and are waiting on the districts to provide guidance,” spokeswoman Senior Cpl. Heather Pepper said.

While Smyrna PD SROs are currently working in the Patrol Division as extra road coverage, “the plan for this year is continuing to evolve as the schools make more concrete determinations about reopening buildings to students,” spokesman/SRO Cpl. Brian Donner said.

As September draws closer, Cpl. Donner said, “there is absolutely a sense of disappointment.

“Our SROs are a great asset to our students in many ways. They take pride in watching the students go from the first day of school through the last day and graduation,” he said.

“To have the year end so suddenly and just have everyone sent home is not at all how our SROs wanted things to end.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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